Lord Mansfield died in 1793 and when his heir, the 2nd Earl of Mansfield, inherited Kenwood House he commissioned the English landscape designer Humphry Repton to improve the gardens.
Repton was then at the height of his career having worked on large country estates throughout England, embellishing the parks with flower gardens near to the house and designing visual 'surprises' in the landscape.
A shrewd marketer of his own work, he presented potential clients with a 'Red Book', where his ideas were shown in beautiful watercolours with flaps that folded out to reveal the full picturesque potential of his design.
The illustrations, plans and accompanying text were then bound in red Moroccan leather, hence the name. The Kenwood Red Book was lost for many years until it surfaced in the late 20th century in the Mansfield archive at Scone Palace.
Repton's idea was to create a series of meandering paths around the estate which would show off all its aspects to their best advantage, creating a series of pleasurable 'surprises' as guests strolled about. He broke up the wide sweeping views in the parkland by planting groves of trees for variety and contrast.
The remodelling of the grounds
His substantial remodelling of the estate included moving Hampstead Lane away from the house separating the two by an ancient ridge of woodland called Prospect Hill. Today it is an SSSI because of its fine collection of sessile oak and beech which is unusual for this area.
A walled forecourt was removed creating a Half Moon Lawn in front of the house to show off its elegant frontage. He also converted the kitchen garden to the west of the house into one of his signature designs, an intricate flower garden. It had 19 circular and crescent shaped beds which later plans show multiplied into twice that number, but it seems that the garden was too shady and damp for the more light demanding plants trees, shrubs and flowers to thrive and it gradually declined.
Although the beds have been replaced by lawn, it is surrounded by shrubs such as the hybrid rhododendrons and it's thought that these include many early introductions of these plants to this country. In May these shrubs, along with azaleas, blaze with colour. An arbour leads from the flower garden framing a view over the lawns and lakes to an ornamental dairy set on a knoll providing visitors with a gasp of appreciation as in Repton's day.